October 31, 2004

coincidentally halloween

Sunday, October 31

We weren't planning anything special for halloween this year, but we did have our friends coming over for dinner on this Halloween sunday.

It wasn't really for the Halloween, but our plan was more of trying to clean the fridge and pantry; these days there have been too many stuff I would like to make and I have done too much shopping, I mean REALLY too much for just two of us. We needed some help to consume all that much of foodstuff in our kitchen.

When I asked him what he would like to share with his friend and his girlfriend, he replied beef in Guinness and marbled cheese cake, so those were what I made. We planned to serve Kabocha pumpkin salad (this one) and roasted potatoes and vegetable as we wanted some vegetable to go with the beef. For dessert, I made baked pumpkin custard in addition to the marbled cheese cake, as it was Halloween (I don't care for pumpkin pie much).

Well, there was A LOT of food.

To start with, we served chili brioche from our favorite bakery with locally-made goat cheese seasoned with rosemary and black pepper.

I tried a bottle of pumpkin ale that he bought me for Halloween. The labed read "pumpkin and spices added" - what kind of beer could be with "added pumpkin"? I did taste some pumpkin-pie sort of spices, but didn't know about if it had a noticeable taste of pumpkin. It was an interesting drink.

When the food was ready, everyone helped themselves. For Beef in Guinness, which ranks among the highest in the list of his favorite dishes I make, I used over 2 pounds of beef and a matching amount of vegetables - onion, carrots, and mushrooms. I was going to prepare it the night before (stews always taste better next day), but I ended up making it early in the morning of sunday. I'd normally make this dish with Guinness (usually stout), but this time I added some red wine and sugar as well as sauteed vegetables for stock (onion, carrot, celery) in an attempt to add richness and complexity to the stew. The large amount of vegetable, predictably, gave out a lot of water as through the 2-hour cooking, so I reduced the soup at the end of cooking in a separate pan. The result was a thick, shiny sauce that had a concentrated aroma of beef, vegetable, and of course Guinness.

We had been quite stuffed as almost all the food had been gone (even beef!). But there had to be dessert to follow; dark and white chocolate marbled cheese cake with Baileys liquor. This is, hands-down, a killer dessert that has never failed to bring oohs and aahs out of anyone who tastes it, at least the last four or five times that I have made this for folks in the past year or so since I was given its recipe by a friend of mine (I will probably give more details of this cake next time I make this, since today's description of dinner is already pretty overloaded).

I messed up in melting white chocolate in microwave and burned it and thus had to use the leftover white chocolate which wasn't enough for this recipe. That made the white-chocolate cream a little thinner than it was supposed to be, and resulted in a bit inconsistent texture. The cake still tasted yummy as ever, got some words of praise from our guests; one of them even claimed that he could live with this cake only, every day, while taking vitamins or something. (I wouldn't recommend it though.)

I have mentioned that we had been full, but we finished a small loaf of cheese cake and even had a bit of baked kabocha pumpkin custard. I have a few different recipes for this, and used one from a long time ago, remembering it would make a very thick, creamy one. But things didn't go quite as good, probably because of the waterly kabocha pumpkin I used, or possibly I didn't use enough amount of pumpkin. Either way, it was more like plain baked custard, which was okay.

This is a very common dessert in Japan, whereas not so much here, apparently; our guests were brave and polite enough to sample a slice. The Jack-O'Lantern chocolate on top of the custard, by the way, is a fraction of a gift from a thoughtful friend of mine. Inside a large Jack-O'Lantern chocolate (the picture on the top) has small jacks and ghosts made of dark, milk, and white chocolates (orange ones are colored white chocolate). We were too full to really appreciate those small goodies today, so I will take care of the rest over the next few days. Too bad!

I hope everyone had a nice Halloween weekend, and if you wouldn't particularly do anything for Halloween, well, I still hope you had a nice weekend!

CPBB 2004: 2nd installment

Friday, October 29

After my first-of-the-season batch of caramel pound cake, I had been meaning to try another one. I was in the mood for some fruits, a with good match for caramel... such as apple, pear, banana. But all of them had been used in elsewhere in this caramel pound cake baking and blogging event, alas. As I wanted to avoid a repetition for this event, I tried to use something that had not appeared - like orange. Although I knew caramel and orange would make a good pair, I wasn't quite sure if the fruit would go good in this particular cake... I decided to give it a try anyways.

Other than orange, my ideas extended to include various nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, and coffee or tea, etc. I was being so indecisive I ended up making three different flavors/toppings: hazelnuts, orange & pistachio, and fleur de sel.

I used the same recipe (in Japanese) as the last time, replacing about one third of flour with ground hazelnuts. I would normally use ground almonds to make richer, moister cake, but this time around I had a large bag of ground hazelnuts given by my friend, I used them.

As I was using ground hazelnuts in the cake batter, I thought I could add non-ground (aka whole) hazelnuts as well. I divided one third of the batter into three paper muffin cups, topped them with coarsely chopped hazelnuts, and sprinkled with cassonade, or French brown sugar.

Then I halved the rest of batter and added some orange zest to a one half. I could have made it simple, but topped orange-caramel cups with chopped raw unsalted pistachio nuts, which are commonly paired with orange.

The last one-third stayed rather simple, with just added fleur de sel or French exquisite sea salt. I like caramel with fleur de sel, which had inspired me to try this in the cake.

Off they went into the oven (ignore that the batter isn't divided quite equally among three) -

- and came out lovely as ever.

Hazelnuts, the main ingredient for praline, was a natural with caramel cake. I had expected that cassonade would burn a bit and add a further caramel-y layer, but it stayed unmelted on top of the cakes. Even so, the cake tasted really good.

Orange and pistachio was a bit of disappointment, although I had sort of guessed it right. It tasted fine, but I wouldn't try this again or encourage people to try either. It is okay though, as I had wanted to try something fruity and it was fulfilled.

Ones with fleur de sel turned out to be the winner of the time. Very simple but rich with a hint of salt (never salty), the cake tasted good on the day they were baked, but developed its flavor wonderfully well over a few days.

This may look pretty plain with nothing so exciting about it, but I imagine a handsome loaf of fleur de sel caramel cake nestled in the fridge would serve a nice treat with a cup of tea, something I would really appreciate on a rainy day or cold day.

October 30, 2004

about time to cook pumpkin

Thursday, October 28

Halloween was coming up, and it was time to cook pumpkin - in my case kabocha pumpkin, or some call kabocha squash. Today it was a recipe from a last year's Saveur issue (Winter 2003), called roasted squash with sage bread crumbs.

Among all herbs, sage isn't really a one that I use so often, but it was supposed to go well with squash, so I got a bag of fresh sage specially for this dish.

I baked the halves of seeded kabocha squash for about an hour or so - it seemed to be a watery one, as it gave out a terrible amount of water as it baked, which I tried to drain thoroughly.

For the stuffing, the recipe uses a lot of bread crumbs with some butter and sage. Since I didn't have that much of bread crumbs, I used a lot of vegetable instead: chopped carrots, onions, celery, and mushrooms, all lightly sauted in olive oil and seasoned with sage, salt and pepper before stuffed in a kabocha half with added bread crumbs and chopped walnuts. It was already smelling good.

Another 20 minutes in the oven and the kabocha was ready. Sage did really go wonderful with kabocha, I thought, making a good contrast to the sweetness of the squash. The stuffing also tasted good with kabocha, too, and I think it would be actually better than the bread crumbs alone, even with a bit extra preparation.

October 29, 2004

autumn rolls on

Wednesday, October 27

After the mont blanc and chestnut pound cake, I still had quite a little stock of chestnut cream and sweetened chestnuts. And there are still more than a few recipes for chestnut desserts I wanted to try, one of which was mousse aux marrons (chestnut mousse).

The recipe is from a Japanese dessert book by Minami Watanabe, and it is made in a shape of a log of mousse aux marrons (chestnut mousse) covered with genoise (sponge cake), and coated with creme chantilly (whipped cream). A bit fancy one, at least to me who has been rather lazy and avoiding something that requires "assembly" of more than one components. So I first planned to make the chestnut mousse only, but at the last minute I changed my mind and did make genoise - but did not compose a log but instead made gateau roule (cake roll). I don't remember when I made this jelly-roll kind of cakes the last time, but it had to be a very long time ago.

First I made a sheet of cocoa sponge cake (I should have added more cocoa powder), then the chestnut mousse, this time using Sierra Rica's sweet chestnut puree, which is not overly sweet and reserves a wonderful chestnuts flavor that I love.
This mousse was more like bavarois in that it is made with egg yolks, sugar, milk and cream plus chestnut puree, set with gelatine. This wasn't a problem though, as I love bavarois a lot.

To fold in the mousse, I used shibukawa-ni, or Japanese sweetened chestnuts cooked with their thin skin on. When it comes to chestnut products, Japanese and European ones are substantially different, most likely due to the chestnuts themselves. Japanese chestnuts seem to be larger with thicker skin, which is usually removed but sometime left on, like in these shibukawa-ni sweetened chestnuts. After long hours of cooking, the thin skin becomes very tender and least annoying, at the same time adding a subtle and pleasant bitterness to the finished products. My mom and aunts would make these almost every year at around this time, and they are my definite favorite. This time, though, I used store-bought ones and soaked them in brandy for a while.

Once the genoise had cooled completely and the mousse had become stiff enough to handle, I went on to roll the cake. First I brushed syrup on the cake, spread the mousse, sprinkled the chopped chestnuts, and rolled.

It didn't quite roll pretty, but it was okay; my chestnut mousse roll tasted really good - both the cake and mousse were wonderfully light and airy, so much so it was hard to stop after just one slice and thus it disappeared pretty quick -, so I don't care.

Well, I do care, in fact, and next time I make a cake roll, I will try to make it in a better, nice and round shape. Hopefully.

October 26, 2004

breakaway not-so-Japanese cooking

Saturday, October 23

When I found and tried "boozy potatoes" about a month ago, I came to know of cookbook called The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen: Inspired New Tastes (Kodansha International, 2003) by Eric Gower and was instantly interested with the concept of the book. I later ordered a copy (along with a couple of other cookbooks) had it delivered a few days ago. The book didn't belie my expectation - or it might have, in a way that it breaks away our conventional idea of Japanese cooking. I eagerly turned the pages and almost all recipes were appealing to me - I wanted to try them all but I didn't know where to start. (Table of contents of the book can be seen in Eric Gower's website: here)

Eventually, circumstances let me to decide on one recipe to start; shiitake pesto. I came to choose this one because it was a rainy day outside and couldn't go out for shopping, and I happened to have (almost) all the ingredients at home for this particular recipe. The technique used in this recipe is marvelous; you mill dried shiitake mushrooms into powder to make a base for pesto, instead of reconstituting them with water, which is, like Mr. Gower points out, a single most common way to use shiitake mushrooms in Japan. This certainly fascinated me, besides the fact that I loathe shiitake mushrooms. I can eat them if they are in miniature pieces, but will rather do anything to avoid them. I just can't stand their taste, smell, semblance, everything.

So I wasn't going to make shiitake pesto straight away (I'd faint away if I do) but was keen to try the method of cooking, using other kinds of dried mushrooms.

I had a plenty of dried mushrooms including porcini, black trumpet, and oyster mushrooms, as well as black truffles which I had sort of wondered what to do with. I put a large handful of these assorted dried mushrooms in a blender and ground them, then mixed in other ingredients, namely, roasted almonds (I added walnut just because I didn't have enough almonds), garlic, cream cheese, olive oil, etc. The recipe says several tablespoons of carrot juice will help the blender run better and also adds some complex flavor to the pesto, so I shredded some carrot to make carrot juice - then I thought that it shouldn't hurt if I put the whole carrot in the pesto, instead of just the juice of it. So I did.

The pesto was ready in a matter of five minutes or so, and as I cook pasta I grilled some sliced shimeji mushrooms, which I arranged on top of the pasta with pesto. The finish-up parmesan was "optional", but of course I grated some parmigiano reggiano over my pasta.

Considering the amount of dried mushrooms used in the pesto, it had to have quite strong flavor of mushrooms. I mean, for dried mushrooms like porcini, a small amount goes a long way in making a broth, and you rarely ever need to use a large handful of them at one time. The pasta, it turned out, had a robust, earthy taste yet with surprisingly delicate mixture of flavors. The taste was sure pretty strong, but nothing too much. A dish with a lot of mushrooms tends to make me associate it with autumn, but this one would be more of a winter dish; it would make a very filling and satisfying meal on a rainy, chilly day like this.

Come to think about it, by the way, last time for the boozy potatoes I used white wine instead of Japanese sake, and this time I substituted mixture of mushrooms for shiitake mushrooms, which basically means that for both times I replaced the "essence" of Eric Gower's recipe that adds the a taste of Japanese to the dish with something not at all Japanese-y, making the dish falling into no particular category... even so, both of the dishes were great and I am excited to try another recipe from the book.

Thank Renee for introducing me to such a lovely book.

October 23, 2004

herby or spicy?

Friday, October 22

I can't tell you enough how much I love rosemary and ginger. You may think you have heard enough of it, though. But I should make it clear that I love rosemary and ginger even in sweets. (You knew that, too? Excuse me for sounding repetitious....)

My first encounter with rosemary in sweets was cookies. And rosemary shortbread has become one of my specialty teatime treats. That said, I have used different shortbread recipes - from a simple one using flour, butter and sugar only to ones with rice flour or corn starch -, and every time it turned out good. Basically, rosemary shortbread can be made with any kind of shortbread dough and an added spoonful or so of chopped fresh rosemary leaves.

For my latest batch of rosemary shortbread, I used the recipe for semolina shortbread by British celebrity chef Delia Smith. I had never used semolina in cakes myself, but the recipe looked pretty straightforward, so there were no worries, and the shortbread actually turned out beautiful and flavorful, buttery and gritty, and pretty tasty.

Now, while searching for other shortbread recipes using semolina, I came across a recipe for ginger shortbread.

If I had not been looking specifically for recipes for rosemary shortbread at that very moment, I would have given this a try, but I sure bookmarked the webpage and waited until the opportunity rose, which was a couple of days ago when it was rainy outside and I felt like something sweet and easy to make.

It may or may not appear to be clear at the first sight, but the two recipes are essentially the same in terms of ingredients; the ratio of flour, sugar, butter, and semolina is identical. What makes the two different is how to make and bake the dough. While Delia Smith's employs the method of creaming butter and sugar at room temperature and adding flours, the latter tells you to work butter in a food processor and add the remaining ingredients all at once. For the baking part, one requires a long cooking time at a relatively low temperature whereas the other takes much shorter time to cook at a higher oven temperature.

Being a hard-core ginger advocate, I was not going to be satisfied with ginger shortbread with ground ginger alone; there had to be real fresh ginger in the genuine ginger shortbread, in my opinion. So I gave in to my inner voice and put a little grated fresh ginger and diced crystallized ginger (and omit ground ginger). The grated fresh ginger might make the cookie dough too moist, I wondered, but I went ahead anyways.

The moisture of fresh ginger, it turned out, didn't cause much problem, but the high-temperature, short-cooking time did; I had been tempted to lower the temperature a bit and bake a little longer than specified, but I followed the recipe and had my shortbread a bit burned at the edge and its center slightly undercooked. It also flattened and spread bigger, contrary to the rosemary shortbread which had held the shape and thickness beautifully. Also, the addition of juicy fresh ginger seemed to have compromised the dry, gritty texture made by semolina; it wasn't soggy or anything, but it just wasn't as crumbly and sandy as otherwise.
Ginger ones tasted really good, but if I try to make ginger shortbread again - and I'm sure I will - I think I will go for another recipe. For good or for bad, there are an endless list of tempting shortbread recipes out there that I wouldn't mind trying....

October 22, 2004

fishy comfort food

Wednesday, October 20

Everyone probably has some sort of food they would go back to when they are sick or exhausted (physically or mentally), or just don't have much appetite. At least I do. And in my case, it is definitely rice. Plain cooked Japanese rice, or rice porrige when my stomach is being sensitive, with some small condiments.

Well, even when I am healthy and can eat a lot, I like to have some freshly-cooked rice for breakfast, with something - most of the time it is likely to be fish things. I am aware that people over here hardly ever eat fish for breakfast, and I don't even try to surprise or offend folks by eating fish for breakfast when I am with someone. It's something I keep it to myself

I have mentioned this numerous times here, but he doesn't eat fish or seafood. Never, as long as he can recognize it's there (well, he does it a bit when he thinks he should). So I rarely cook fish at home. What I eat with a breakfast bowl of rice is store-bought condiments, usually from Japan.

Yesterday I opened one of such products for breakfast, this time ochazuke. Ochazuke, literaly meaning "(soaked) in tea", refers to a dish of rice with some garnish (fish and/or pickles, seaweed, small rice puff, etc.) in a hot soup - sometimes it's green tea, sometimes dashi broth. It is a typical quick and easy, light dish in Japan. But this one with sea urchin, from an old and established shop in Tokyo was one of their specialty "luxury" line of ochazukes, or so they claim.

To be frank I hadn't really had so much expectations, but it turned out pretty good; dashi soup was tasty and the sea urchin was decent; I had never had sea urchin for breakfast before, even not pouch-packed semi-dried ones, but this one wasn't bad at all, specially when I don't have much access to traditional Japanese food products.

For today I had something else, fishy again. I got two kinds of chirimen-jako or seasoned dried baby sardines from another such establishment in Kyoto.

One was with tarako or cod roe and the other with seaweed and shiso - I opened the tarako one first.

I made the rice with tarako chirimen into a couple of small, 3-bite-sized onigiris or rice balls for a change; onigiris have something magical that makes the same rice taste better, or at least makes you think it tasting better, I guess. It's a silly thing, but it works for me.

gone home with cake

Monday, October 18

Her much-too-short 5-day stay in Hawaii had passed quickly and my sister was about to leave now in the Monday morning. Last night while she was endeavoring to pack the impossibly bulky souvenirs of Hawaii into her Rimowa, I did a last-minute baking and made chestnut pound cake. Yes, chestnuts again, but this year I got a LOT of chesnut products (paste and sweetened chesnuts) and was ready to use them away during the autumn.

I used the recipe from the same resource as the mont blanc I made just the other day. In fact, I used the same central ingredients - the same sweetened chestnut paste, sweetened Italian chestnuts, and French rum.

It was a basic pound cake recipe plus an added chestnut paste (optional, but how could I have skipped that part?). Probably because of the rather low baking temperature (325F), my two mini loaves came out looking relatively pale (or was it so just that I tend to bake things too long and burn them in all other cases?), so did the inside of the cake.

The cake was very soft and moist, thanks to the chestnut paste. However, there wasn't so much of chestnut taste, considering the amount used (the same as all other main ingredients in weight). I also felt that I could have used more chestnuts dice, too.

Even so, it was still more than decent and tasted good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and an additional chestnut on top. I had my sister take one loaf home with her, who kindly did so and put it in one of her already full bags (she made it all packed, to my astonishment). I had my slice of the pound cake at home, alone, thinking how time indeed flies, specially when having fun.

October 20, 2004

white mountains on the tropical island

Friday, October 15

My sister was here visiting us in Hawaii this past week, and we were going places here and there, being busy watching things that this island has to offer, all at the same time me having work to do. I wanted to cook for her as much as possible while she was here, but I couldn't find time to do so as much as I had hoped... but at least I managed to make something she LOVES: mont blanc.

I am not sure how popular this dessert is here in this country, but mont blanc is a dessert made of meringue, whipped cream, and chestnut cream whose name seems to come from its resemblance in appearance, apparently, to the French Alp moutain Mont Blanc.

This chestnut dessert has a huge popularity in Japan, in so much that you would find some sort of stuff called mont blanc in virtually every cake shop you stumble across, and I am not exaggerating (unless it is purely a domestic Japanese-style sweet shop). My sister loves it and whenever I hear about a cake shop that has good mont blanc, I'd thought of her.

Even so, I don't think I had ever made one myself, mainly because the complicated process involved in making ones - making meringue, creme chantilly, chestnut cream, and putting them all together. That said, there aren't really very difficult procedures as long as you have good creme de marron or sweetened chestnut paste, but I have been way too lazy to make something that I need more than two mixing bowls.

But I somehow brought myself to try it, taking this opportunity for treating my sister who came to see me all the way from Japan. I began by looking for a good, easy recipe and settled down with this one (in Japanese, but you can see an image of the dessert). I had a decent jar of creme de marron from France, quality chestnuts in syrup from Italy, and aromatic rum from France (mellower than Myers's)

While an authentic mont blanc is supposed to have meringue as a base, I couldn't really bother to make one myself and I don't fancy meringue anyways, so I decided to make it in a tartlette (small tart) form. I made sweet tart shells using this recipe (also in Japanese), a rich dough using groung almonds.

Tartlette shells were now ready (burnt, though) and making creme chantilly (whipping heavy cream) and chestnut cream (whipping creme de marron and butter) was really nothing, and here came the most challenging part of all - composition. Now, I didn't even have a pastry bag OR tip, and all I could do was using regular plastic bags for piping the cream, and that was basically what I did. I placed tartlette shells, put creme chantilly, then one chestnut on top of each, mounted creme chantilly again, dusted with cocoa powder, then piped chestnut cream.

I first attempted to make my mont-blanc looking like the one seen in the image in the recipe linked above, but I quickly changed my plan, due to an insurmountable difficulty in terms of - eh - skills, if I have to tell you. So I ended up with ones in a bit different style, but it was okay, as I have seen many mont blanc with chestnut cream piped like this, even though those made by professional patissiers would sure look by far fancier and sophisticated. Oh, I didn't forget to dust them with confectioners' sugar to make sure the small goodies would be true to their name mont blanc, or white mountain, but by the time I shot these pictures the "snow" had melted away for the most part...

And most importantly, my mini mont blanc tartlettes pleased my sister a lot, who excitedly gobbled up one when she came home from going to surf. They had such a mellow, airy texture you'd think you can eat up a couple of them at once easily, but beware, the truth is, they aren't light at all with a sinful amount of cream and butter (and sugar from chestnuts products) concentrated into one small tartelette.


By the way, after the mont-blanc treat, we went off for a stay in Waikoloa on the west side for a weekend. On the way we passed a heavily-raining area and then saw a gorgeous rainbow on the horizon. It was so huge I couldn't have the whole thing in one picture, so I tried and caught it in two separate pictures and then put them together - not very successfully, as you can see (I do have a software for that, but it didn't quite work this time). But I guess you can still get a general idea of how big it was.

(Click on the image for a larger view)

October 17, 2004

autumn sale

Monday, October 11

I wonder if I am the only one who would almost automatically associate mushrooms with autumn.

Well, I know I'm not, at least among Japanese, who by an large call autumn "season of the appetite" and celebrate it with a range of fruits of harvest, and mushrooms seem to be one of them.

Over here I most frequently use regular, white button mushroom, while usually stay out of ones I used to use a lot back in Japan, such as shimeji, enoki, or king oyster mushrooms (shiitake mushrooms are much common here, but I'd do anything to avoid them, although I do use a minimum amount of dried ones to give a complicated flavor in some Japanese dishes), as they are way too overpriced.

So the other day when I was in a nearby supermarket and found those expensive mushrooms were on sale, I couldn't help but grab some packages, thinking, It's (supposedly) autumn and they are on sale! I've got to make some kinoko-gohan.

It was only when I was paying at the casher that I figured those mushrooms were still quite expensive, and the discount was something worth $1 for total - I paid $11 for those mushrooms. Even so, I would not have thought of buying these if it had not been in autumn AND they had not been on sale, so it was a nice opportunity to treat myself with something I can't always afford, I told myself.

As is the case of the most of family cooking, there is no fixed way to make kinoko-gohan, or rice cooked with mushrooms; the bottom line is that you cook rice and mushrooms, together or separately, with or without meat or vegetable. I usually like to make it with a load of assorted mushrooms and vegetable, and a bit of chicken and abura-age, or deep-fried thin-sliced tofu. I also bought boiled bamboo shoots, to make the most of this grand opportunity of making kinoko-gohan.

The making of kinoko-gohan was all about preparation, as the actual cooking it on a rice cooker. I sliced and chopped a bunch of ingredients, and prepared Japanese short-grain rice and put everything in the rice cooker with water and seasonings (soy sauce, chinese chicken stock, white wine, shredded fresh ginger, dried shiitake and maitake mushrooms and their broth, and sesame oil).

Although my crappy rice cooker did a poor job in cooking rice with that much of ingredients and I had to re-cook the rice another couple of time, still being not able to cook the rice evenly (some part got really soggy), my kinoko-gohan turned out fairly good. With a finishing touch of sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, and additional shredded ginger (plus salt & pepper), it tasted good and there was a plenty of leftover enough to let me get by for the rest of the season, hopefully...

October 14, 2004

CPBB 2004

Sunday, October 10

At about this time of the last year, there was something my fellow food lovers, bloggers and non-bloggers alike, and I would bake at around the same time, most of us more than once, in many places in the world (at least in the UK, US westcoast and Hawaii, and Tokyo). It was caramel pound cake. With a rich, luscious, bitter sweet flavor of caramel incorporated in the batter, the cake had something you just can't say no - at least if you are a caramel lover.

I liked the cake a lot for its taste, and for its versatility; while it is delicious on its own, it also makes a reliable base for a wide range of variation - from various nuts chocolate to dried fruits or chocolate. Last year I baked the cake over and over with different ingredients, all of which turned out lovely.

For the past several months I was kind of over it and being into other stuff, but just recently my friend and excellent baker Joyce was in the vanguard of us all and baked a caramel pound cake. We were all so excited and, with a sudden urge of baking caramel pound cake on our own, decided to do the Caramel Poundcake Baking & Blogging 2004, hosted by Naoko-san who first introduced the recipe for the cake to many of us last year.

I was in for the event with my first caramel pound cake of the season - fig & chestnut caramel pound cake. I've got a lot other ideas, but couldn't help but trying one of my favorite combinations.

The recipe I used actually is from somewhere else (here (in Japanese)) but pretty much the same as the one Naoko-san gave us; it is a very basic recipe for pound cake (I reduce the sugar a bit), but with caramel sauce incorporated in the batter, which you can make by heating granulated sugar until it is amber (I like to have my caramel pound cake really caramely so I make the sauce really dark amber, but not go further to burn it up) and then adding heavy cream.

Other than the part of making the caramel sauce and cool it to room temperature, the whole process is really easy. I added cubes of dried plump Calimyrna figs and subtly sweetened steamed chestnuts that I had soaked in brandy overnight, baked two mini loaves of caramel-rich folks loaded with figs and chestnuts.

They turned out beautiful, caramel aroma and color inside and out. Figs and chestnuts went perfectly well in the sweet but slightly bitter cake. While it tastes lovely right away, but the cake does develop its flavor wonderfully over few days; the already delicious cake will be even more delicious, although, admitted, it is hard to keep it away from your sight for more than one day. But it really is worth an effort.

Oh, I can't complete a project of making caramel pound cake without having a cup of caramel milk, by the way; after you have tried to scrape out as much caramel sauce as you can from the sauce pan, you are still likely to have some sauce sticking to the bottom and side of the pan. Although you can dump it in a dishwasher or soak it in water to loosen the thick sauce, you can pour some milk in the sauce and leave it for a while - here you are, just a small cupful of caramel milk. This might be the third but not the last reason that I keep baking caramel pound cake - a discreet cup of happiness just for myself.

October 9, 2004

mystery berry

Friday, October 8

This evening we went out to our favorite local Thai restaurant in town for dinner. It seems that I'd always go back to one of my same regular dishes (curries or larb salad), but they had changed their menu a bit and introduced a dozen of new dishes, so I had to try one of them - noodle soup. I ordered it hot, and it turned out to be seriously hot; I think I have relatively higher tolerance for spicy heat, but it was fiercely hot. Plus, there was a huge pile of cilantro, which I promptly removed from the bowl, but the whole soup and noodle smelled and tasted like coriander... mmmm... I had vaguely expected that the soup might be smelly with cilantro, but it turned out to be worse. Oh well, even so, I managed to finish the noodle and it was, somehow, tasting good.

And here comes the dessert, the spotlight of the day - ice cream of your choice with tapioca in sweet coconut milk sauce. A few months back I posted a story and a picture of this dessert, and ever since then I would always choose ginger ice cream. Today I felt a wee bit adventurous and tried something new, the thing I had always wondered about: pohaberry.

I don't think I ever heard of pohaberry anywhere but this very Thai restaurant. We didn't have any idea or whatsoever as to what kind of berry it is. Then our dessert arrived. We were totally puzzled at the sight of it - where are the berries? Well, the small yellow flakes must have been it. (The red ones are strawberries as a decoration, obviously.)

Since they were so small pieces we couldn't taste it very well, but we thought it tasted a sort of like peach. We were now even more puzzled, but finished it anyways. It tasted good.

And when we got home, I searched on the net for the mystery "berry" and figured out that pohaberry might possibly be, or something similar to, physalis pruinosa, aka ground cherry, husk tomato, tomatillo, cape gooseberry, or something like it. Interesting learning.